By Joe Doucette

Nevada Department of Wildlife 

With the Great Basin in its third year of drought, animals often wander into neighborhoods and towns in search of greener pastures.  Well intentioned residents try to help the animals by putting out water or food for them. Unfortunately, this does more harm than good.

Mule deer have evolved to adapt to the boom and bust cycle of the great basin and are adept at finding food and water in even the worst of years.  By putting out food and water, people start the process of making these wild animals dependent upon them. The behaviors that have developed over the years are slowly eroded as successive generations learn new and destructive patterns.

The food that people put out for the deer to eat is often unhealthy for them.  Deer have a rumen that helps digests their natural food.  Non-native food can change the function of the rumen which can prevent the animal from absorbing the nutrients they need.

One of the biggest problems with putting out water for deer is that it keeps them in town, prolonging their contact with humans causing problems for the deer themselves.  They are now much more susceptible to being hit by cars, getting tangled in fences and being chased by dogs.

So instead of helping the deer, well intentioned people are often the cause of deer mortality, which is why a few years ago it was made illegal to feed big game animals. So do your part to keep Nevada’s mule deer wild.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) protects, restores and manages fish and wildlife, and promotes fishing, hunting, and boating safety. NDOW’s wildlife and habitat conservation efforts are primarily funded by sportsmen’s license and conservation fees and a federal surcharge on hunting and fishing gear. Support wildlife and habitat conservation in Nevada by purchasing a hunting, fishing, or combination license. Find us on Facebook, Twitter or visit us at